Pas de Deux

A pair of swans caught my eye.

No biggie, I thought. Mute swans are a common sight on Lake Allegan. But these two birds’ unusual movements made me look twice.

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Image Credits: Carol Doeringer.

Duck Drama

Wood ducks seemed to be studying our squirrel tree.

We call it that because squirrels like to shelter inside. And each spring, at least one new family grows up there. One year, a pregnant raccoon took over the entire tree. But otherwise, for some twenty years, we have watched squirrel mamas, and eventually their pups, scurry in and out of the largely hollow tree.

But last week, I wondered if wood ducks might be moving in.

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From Shallows to Swamp?

A bird stares intently, seemingly focused on an errant feather stuck to his beak.

But that’s not what this juvenile Bald Eagle is watching. Perched on the high bluff behind our Lake Allegan home, the raptor has a sweeping view of the water below. That view includes Eagle Island.

You can probably guess how that island got its name.

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Image Credits: Carol Doeringer.

A Surplus of Swans

I counted seven swans-a-swimming.

The beautiful birds were not a precious gift from my true love, as the holiday song suggests.  Instead, Mute Swans are quite common on Lake Allegan, which our home overlooks. Their graceful movement and luminous white plumage always command my attention. While not totally silent as their name implies, Mute Swans are blissfully quiet compared to the loudmouth Canada Geese that also frequent our lake.

And then there’s the ugly part: Many biologists and conservationists believe these lovely birds are invasive.

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Image Credits: Carol Doeringer, E. Spicer.

Winter Wonders

What does wildlife think of winter?

I don’t picture wildlife muttering silently about insufferable snow and icy wind. Instinct and biology play key roles in keeping creatures warm and fed. But animals are intelligent, too. Do they think about the seasonal discomfort?

That’s what I’m wondering as I sit by my fireplace, snug in my home and shielded from the cold and snow.

read more and see the video

Image Credits: Carol Doeringer.

Fluffy Feathers and Frigid Feet

You’ve probably seen birds fluff their feathers in winter.

The fluffy feathers form little puff pockets of air warmed by the birds’ bodies. But… have you ever seen a bird with feathered feet?

In the past few weeks, I’ve watched geese stand immobile for thirty minutes or more on ice and in shallow, frigid water. They seem unconcerned about freezing their feet. Turkey vultures poop on their feet to cool them off in summer. Is it possible, I wondered, that the geese are dropping little toe warmers, and I never noticed?

I reviewed hours of video featuring geese on ice. Nope. Nary a plop.

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Scratch that Itch!

Mites and lice and fleas: Oh my!

Have you ever watched a scratching squirrel? Those little paws move incredibly fast, and I swear, their under-the-armpit maneuvers mimic taking a shower. I wrote a blog post about itchy squirrels a year ago, surmising that their den was infested with fleas. This past week, quite a few creatures’ itchy behavior caught my eye: the squirrels, a juvenile bald eagle, adult and juvenile swans, and two kinds of ducks—goldeneyes and mergansers.

So, what’s with all the picking, poking, biting, and scratching?

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Solitary Swan

There’s nothing more graceful than a swan swimming on perfectly still water.

We see swans quite often on Lake Allegan. They’re drawn to the weedy, shallow water surrounding Eagle Island, a few hundred yards from our home. Swans mate for life, and they’re social creatures. So usually, they feed in pairs—or herds or banks or bevies—of six or eight (who comes up with these collective nouns?).

So, when a solo swan floated nearby for days, I wondered if something was amiss.

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Three Ducks

I thought she was wounded.

A female Common Merganser floated in a posture I’d not noticed before. A male was with her, swimming broad circles around her prone body. Was she injured? I grabbed my spotting scope to find out.

I watched as she floated, nearly motionless, elongated as though playing dead man’s float.

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